Upon entering the United States Armed Forces, federal law requires everyone to swear the oath of enlistment. But when we swear the oath, just what are we obligated to – and for how long?
The Oath of Enlistment in its current form:
"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
The wording of the Oath for Commissioned Officers varies slightly, but the point is the same:
"I, _____ (SSAN), having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God."
When I swore the oath as a baby-faced seventeen year-old, I felt as if I had been reborn. That day I became part of something much larger than myself. Instead of playing football and delivering furniture, I was now safeguarding my Constitution and way of life. It was an experience I will never forget.
Not long ago, however, I realized that there is a catch to the oath of enlistment. While talking to an old friend who had served in the Marine Corps, he asked me if I signed anything releasing me from my oath on the day I separated from the military. Thinking back, I remember signing more papers that day than everything I have signed collectively since. But I could not recall any document releasing me from my oath. It was then that I realized that I had no choice. An oath is an oath.
Once I considered the cleverly-designed trap I had fallen into, the line I had previously pondered about – "all enemies, foreign or domestic" – suddenly became clear. The Constitution isn’t meant to be supported and defended solely by the men and women wearing the uniform. And the threats don’t always come from foreign shores.
All Americans have a civic duty to support and defend the Constitution, but veterans are honor bound. Our days of grabbing a rifle and jumping out of airplanes may be behind us, but those tasks are in the capable hands of a younger generation now. The military can handle the threats overseas, but in order to do so, they require the support of patriots back home. In order to achieve victory in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, we must elect politicians who will support the troops. When Congress debates legislation that erodes our liberty or security, the military needs us to voice our concerns. We must make contacting our elected officials as much a part of our day as brushing our teeth. The task may appear daunting, but it pales in comparison to the sacrifice of the millions of patriots who came before us.
The military won’t let us down, so it is up to us not to let them down.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States has 23.2 million military veterans. Together with 3 million active duty, reserve, or National Guard troops, we constitute nearly 9 percent of all Americans. Compared to 309 million Americans, that number may not sound staggering, but not all Americans vote. If all veterans and military members would have voted in the 2008 presidential election, veterans and military members would have accounted for one in five votes. We would have represented nearly one out of three votes in the 2006 mid-term elections, which traditionally have less turnout.
If the entire veteran community mobilized, we would form a demographic so large that no politician could afford to ignore us.
When we transitioned to the civilian world, we didn’t leave our responsibilities to this country behind, we simply traded our rifles for voting booths and telephones.
I think back to the day when I decided to join the military. The liberty and security paid for by the blood of millions of American patriots before me was such that I was willing to sacrifice my life if necessary in order to preserve it for future generations. Years later, our nation’s founding document has not lost its luster and importance to me.
The President is no longer my Commander-in-Chief. And I no longer have officers above me, nor do I fall under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. However, the most important part of the oath still does – and always will – apply. Therefore, I have reaffirmed my oath to “support and defend the Constitution.” I pray that others will do so as well.